IRL: Intriguing possibilities at Chicagoland

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series race at Chicagoland Speedway today offers many intriguing possibilities for the 2004 championship. As race ...

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series race at Chicagoland Speedway today offers many intriguing possibilities for the 2004 championship. As race #14 in a 16-event campaign, the Delphi Indy 300 could mathematically eliminate one or more of the five drivers still in contention for the driver's title.

Tony Kanaan currently leads the standings with 503 points. If he finishes fifth or better in all of the final three races today, October 3rd at California Speedway and October 17th on the Texas Motor Speedway's high banks, the Brazilian can clinch his first IRL title, no matter what happens to his pursuers.

Teammate Dan Wheldon hovers 72 points behind Kanaan with 431, Buddy Rice holds 427 third-place points, today's polesitter Helio Castroneves is fourth with 359 points and Dario Franchitti lies fifth with 354 points.

Franchitti is the man on "the bubble" because, when Kanaan starts the 200- lap contest this afternoon, he is eliminated from championship contention. Castroneves can be out of the chase if Kanaan finishes 14th or better in the Delphi Indy 300.

If Kanaan wins this afternoon from second on the 22-car grid and leads the most laps, Wheldon must finish better than 14th to remain in the hunt. Rice would be out of contention if Kanaan wins, leads the most laps and the 2004 Indy 500 champ lies worse than eighth when the checkered flags fly.

Wheldon is eliminated with three races remaining under the following scenario: if Kanaan wins, leads the most laps and Wheldon finishes worse than tenth.

If Kanaan finishes second and does not lead the most laps, both Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice will remain mathematically eligible for the title. If Kanaan finishes second and leads the most laps, Rice has to complete the race in 16th position or better.

Confusing, isn't it?

Before and after qualifying yesterday, several drivers changed engines, relegating themselves to the rear of the field. Tomas Scheckter's crew elected not to qualify the South African and changed his Chevrolet engine while qualifying was ongoing.

Two other Chevy drivers swapped power mills: Felipe Giaffone in the #24 Purex/Aventis entry and the #20 Patrick Racing car of Jaques Lazier swapped engines after the duo qualified. Mark Taylor will run the race today with a swapped Honda engine and Tora Takagi, who qualified in the final spot yesterday will have a new Toyota engine in his Dallara chassis.

Because of these engine swaps, Taylor starts 18th, Giaffone 19th, Lazier holds 20th grid slot, Takagi remains 21st and Scheckter starts 22nd and last.

Several drivers have said starting position doesn't matter at this D- shaped, 1.5-mile oval. This quintet is hoping that's the case.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Felipe Giaffone , Helio Castroneves , Jaques Lazier  , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice